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2019-03-20

Note of the Day – March 20 (Mk 2:10, 28, etc)

By | Exegetical/Study Series, Note of the Day | No Comments

The final topic in this series, dealing with the Galilean Period of Jesus’ ministry, involves the “Son of Man” references and sayings of Jesus. These play an important part in the Passion Narrative as well, but it makes sense to address them here, at this point in the series. I have dealt with the background of the expression “Son of Man” in some detail in earlier notes, as well an article in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, and so will not repeat that discussion here. However, it is worth outlining again the three ways that the expression may be used (by Jesus) in the Gospels:

  1. As a general reference to human beings, human nature, or the human condition. In the Old Testament, and in Hebrew/Aramaic usage, “son of man” often occurs in tandem with “man”—the parallel “man…son of man…” is a comprehensive expression representing humankind.
  2. As a self-reference, a kind of circumlocution for “I”—i.e., myself as a human being, this (particular) human being. However, as I have noted, evidence for this usage at, or prior to, the time of Jesus is very slight.
  3. Referring to a divine/heavenly being, who serves as God’s representative on earth, typically in an eschatological context. This usage would seem to derive largely, if not entirely, from the phrase “one like a son of man” in Daniel 7:13 (on this, see my note in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”).

These different possible meanings, or points of reference, often make interpretation of the “Son of Man” sayings difficult. One must also consider what the expression would have meant originally, on the lips of Jesus, and how early Christians (including the Gospel writers) came to understand it. From the standpoint of this series, the “Son of Man” sayings have a special place, since we are able to determine, on objective grounds, that they are authentic traditions, going back to the words of Jesus himself. The expression hardly occurs at all outside the Gospels, indicating that it was not a title that early Christians typically used of Jesus—with “Son of God”, “Lord”, and, of course, “(the) Anointed [i.e. Christ]”, being far more common. Apart from the Gospels (and Acts 7:56, which draws upon Gospel tradition), “Son of Man” is found only in Rev 1:13 and 14:14, where the allusion is clearly to Dan 7:13. Moreover, all of the instances come from Jesus’ own words, or in response to them (cf. Jn 12:34). Taken together, this would confirm that the usage of the expression in the New Testament is derived solely from the words of the historical Jesus. This is not to say that the “Son of Man” sayings did not undergo development within the Gospel Tradition; however, in comparison with other areas of the Tradition, the discernible adaptation has been rather slight.

The Synoptic “Son of Man” Sayings

In the core Synoptic tradition, as represented by the Gospel of Mark, there are 12 (or 13) Son of Man sayings, each of which has parallels in Matthew and Luke. The Markan references are: 2:10, 28; 8:31, 38; 9:9, 12, 31; 10:33, 45; 13:26; 14:21, 41, 62. Only two of these are found in the Galilean Ministry Period—Mk 2:10, 28 par. They have a certain similarity in setting (and meaning), both coming from the section 2:1-3:6 par, a block of traditions with the common theme of the reaction to Jesus’ ministry by the religious authorities (“Scribes and Pharisees”) and the debate/conflict with them which ensued.

Mark 2:10

This saying is central to the healing miracle episode of 2:1-12. Jesus’ declaration to the disabled man (“Your sins are released [i.e. forgiven]”, v. 5) provokes a reaction by some of the people standing by (“Scribes”, v. 6; Pharisees and “teachers of the Law”, Lk 5:17). Their thought seems to be that, by declaring the man’s sins forgiven (“released”), Jesus has taken on a right and power which is reserved for God:

“(For) what [i.e. why] does this (man) speak this (way)? He insults (God)! Who has power [i.e. is able] to release sins, if not [i.e. except] One only—God!” (v. 7)

In other words, a human being (Jesus) is declaring another person’s sin to be forgiven, entirely apart from any ritual activity (as prescribed in the Law), by his own word and authority. This was viewed as an insult (i.e. blasphemy) against God. The first part of Jesus’ response (v. 9) essentially makes the point that the authority to declare sin forgiven is tied to the (divine) power to bring healing. In Greek, the same verb sw/zw (sœ¡zœ, “save, preserve, protect”) can be used for healing from disease, as well as deliverance from the power/effect of sin and evil—two aspects of the concept of salvation. The Son of Man saying occurs in verse 10:

“But (so) that you may see [i.e. know] that the Son of Man holds authority [e)cousi/a] upon earth to release [i.e. forgive] sins…”

There is a fundamental interpretive difficulty at this point. Do the words in v. 10 belong to Jesus, or are they a comment by the narrator? In the first instance, the passage would read (words of Jesus in red):

“What works better [i.e. what is easier]: to say…’your sins are released’, or to say ‘rise and take (up) your mattress and walk about’? But (so) that you may see that the Son of Man holds authority upon earth to release sins…”—he says (then) to the paralyzed (man)—“I say to you, ‘Rise (and) take (up) your mattress…'”

According to the second option, it would read:

“What works better [i.e. what is easier]: to say…’your sins are released’, or to say ‘rise and take (up) your mattress and walk about’?” But (so) that you may see that the Son of Man holds authority upon earth to release sins, he [i.e. Jesus] says to the paralyzed (man): “I say to you, ‘Rise (and) take (up) your mattress…'”

Most commentators opt for the first interpretation above, in which case the reference to the “Son of Man” comes from Jesus’ own lips. Indeed, it is more likely that the narrator’s comment is limited to the words “he says to the paralyzed (man)”, simply to make clear to whom the following words in v. 11 are addressed. But what is the precise meaning of the expression “the Son of Man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) here? An argument can be made for each of the three basic meanings outlined above. The Gospel writers may have understood it as a title of Jesus, though more feasible is the second meaning—as a self-reference (equivalent to “I”). However, I tend to think that Jesus may be using the expression here in the generic sense (meaning #1 above), as a reference to a human being, or humankind generally. According to this view, Jesus’ saying could be paraphrased as:

“But so that you may see that a son of man [i.e. human being] has authority (from God) upon earth to forgive sin…”

There is confirmation of this interpretation from Matthew’s version, which ends with the summary statement (9:8):

“And seeing (this) [i.e. the miracle], the throngs (of people) were afraid, and they esteemed/honored God the (one) giving such authority to men.”

This statement echoes and interprets the Son of Man saying in v. 6 (Mk 12:10). God has given the authority to forgive sins (on earth) to a human being—that is, to one human being, Jesus.

Mark 2:28

I have discussed this passage (the Sabbath controversy scene, 2:23-28 par) in an earlier note in this series. Here we will consider again briefly the Son of Man saying in v. 28. Actually, in Mark’s version, a dual saying is involved, and vv. 27-28 must be taken together:

“The Shabbat {Sabbath} came to be through [i.e. because of] man, and not man through the Shabbat” (v. 27)
“So then the Son of Man is also/even Lord of the Shabbat” (v. 28)

The parallel “man…son of man…” strongly suggests that the generic meaning of the expression “son of man” is intended here, in the original saying(s) by Jesus. For the numerous examples of this (poetic) parallelism in the Old Testament, cf. Num 23:19; Job 16:21; 25:6; 35:8; Psalm 8:4; 80:17; 144:3; 146:3; Isa 51:12; 56:2; Jer 50:40; 51:43. However, it is significant that Matthew and Luke both omit (or do not include) any saying corresponding to Mk 2:27, preserving only the second (“Son of Man”) saying (Matt 12:8; Lk 6:5). This increases the likelihood that both Gospel writers understand the expression, in the narrative context, as a (self)-title of Jesus. Matthew, in particular, gives emphasis to the authority and divine status of Jesus, through the added sayings in 12:5-7. By contrast, the emphasis in Mark is more squarely on the priority of caring for human need (i.e. hunger) over and against strict ritual observance of the Sabbath.

To these references one may add the saying on the Holy Spirit in Matthew 12:32 / Lk 12:10. The Synoptic saying in Mk 3:28-29 reads:

“they all will be released [i.e. forgiven] for the sons of men, the sins and insults, however they might (give) insult; but he who should give insult unto [i.e. against] the holy Spirit, he does not have release (of that sin) into the Age…”

Matthew preserves a version of this same saying in 12:31-32:

“every sin and insult will be released [i.e. forgiven] for men, but the insult against the Spirit will not be released…not in this Age and not in the Coming (Age).”

However, the author also includes (in v. 32) a separate/parallel saying corresponding to that in Lk 12:10:

“whoever should say a word against the Son of Man, it will be released [i.e. forgiven] for him; but whoever should say (anything) against the holy Spirit, it will not be released for him…” (Matt 12:32)
“everyone who will utter a word against the Son of Man, it will be released [i.e. forgiven] for him; but (for) the one who gives insult unto [i.e. against] the holy Spirit, it will not be released” (Lk 12:10)

Note the apparent confusion in these sayings between sons of men, men, and Son of Man. This may indicate that an original generic use of “son of man” has become (re)interpreted as the titular “Son of Man” in Matt 12:32/Lk 12:10. This latter usage involves a difficulty. If “Son of Man” here refers to Jesus, then it is necessary to explain why a word spoken against Jesus (presumably indicating hostility and unbelief) may be forgiven, but insult against the Holy Spirit would not be. I have addressed this subject elsewhere. The difficulty is alleviated somewhat if, in the original tradition, the contrast was between human beings and God (the Spirit of God).

These are the only Son of Man sayings in the Synoptics which may use the expression in the generic sense of human beings, human nature, etc. Elsewhere in the Tradition, it is clearly understood as a self-reference or title of Jesus. In such passages, it would seem that Jesus uses the expression as a distinctive way of identifying himself. As we shall see, this mode of expression proved to be somewhat difficult for early Christians; and, as the Gospel came to be rendered more regularly in Greek, the original meaning and significance of the Semitic idiom was largely lost. In the next note, I will survey a group of sayings which relate to the idea of Jesus’ suffering.